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Interior Department Proposes Weakening Environmental Standards for Grazing on Public Lands

March 3, 2003
WildEarth Guardians
In This Release
Public Lands  
Santa Fe, NM – The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today published proposed changes to regulations that guide management of livestock grazing on more than 170 million acres of public lands in the Western United States. Though the BLM claims that the proposed new grazing regulations, which come in the form of an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, are part of the agency’s effort to improve its management of public rangelands, environmental groups contend that the changes to the grazing rules will result in the reduced ability of the public to participate in grazing administration and policy decisions, and subject more land to the devastating impacts of grazing.

“This is yet another blatant attempt by the Bush Administration to curtail the ability of the public to participate in decisions affecting our public lands,” said Laurele Fulkerson, WildEarth Guardians’ Grazing Program Coordinator. “Unfortunately, the BLM’s effort to push the Administration’s agenda through these proposed regulations occurs at the expense of native wildlife, plants, and streams,” added Fulkerson.

The regulatory changes under consideration include:

  • Altering the administrative appeals process related to grazing decisions by the BLM by codifying a more restrictive standing to sue than the federal rules require. The proposed rules narrow the definition of “legally cognizable interest” and, in effect, reduce the ability of the public to appeal grazing administration and policy decisions.
  • Authorizing the BLM to designate a new type of grazing unit called “Reserve Common Allotments.” This provision would allow previously vacant areas to be un-retired for use as reserve forage areas by permittees whose allotments are undergoing range-recovery effort that requires rest from grazing.
  • Re-instating a pre-1994 provision that allows the BLM and grazing permittees to share title of certain range improvements, such as a fence, well, or pipeline. In essence, this provision would transfer ownership of public infrastructure to private hands, which will make it more difficult for the BLM to remove permittees who overgraze the land due to the high costs of buying them out.
  • Emphasizing that reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) will consider the economic, social, and cultural impacts of BLM’s decisions. This stipulation would elevate the socio-economic concerns of ranchers at the expense of environmental protection.

“These proposed changes will undo what little environmental progress has been made as a result of the range reform regulations implemented in 1995 by the Clinton Administration,” said John Horning, WildEarth Guardians’ Executive Director. “The American public wants greater environmental protection, not less.”

The proposed changes to the BLM grazing regulations will affect numerous federally listed threatened and endangered species and state listed sensitive species within BLM lands, including, but not limited to the Lesser Prairie Chicken, Aplomado falcon, Southwestern willow flycatcher and Bald eagle.

The public will have 60 days to comment on the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking as of its publication in the Federal Register. The BLM also published a Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under NEPA today, which will analyze the potential impact of the changes in the BLM grazing regulations. The BLM will hold four scoping meetings on the EIS, including one meeting in Reno, NV at the Reno Sparks Convention Center on March 20, 2003 from 6 to 10pm, and one meeting in Albuquerque, NM at the Hilton of Albuquerque on March 25, 2003 from 6 to 10pm.